World Cup 2010: Host South Africa ties Mexico, 1-1, in opener

Thousands packed a stadium in South Africa to watch a concert on the eve of the World Cup. Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys were among the performers.
By Liz Clarke and Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 12, 2010

JOHANNESBURG -- Surely South Africa's flag has never waved more proudly.

The nation delivered on its promise to the sporting world Friday, staging a glorious kickoff to the 2010 World Cup, the first staged on African soil.

And 55 minutes into the opening match, 25-year-old Siphiwe Tshabalala blasted a lightning bolt of a goal that put South Africa ahead in what to that point had been a scoreless contest, with Mexico holding sway.

But after Mexico answered in the 79th minute, the match ended in a 1-1 draw -- an outcome that would have represented a triumph for South Africa under normal circumstances, given its humble world ranking (83rd) compared to Mexico's (17th).

But this was no ordinary circumstance. Nor was it an ordinary day, with 49 million South Africans cheering on their team and a global TV audience estimated at 500 million.

From the moment FIFA officials awarded South Africa hosting honors for the 2010 World Cup, skeptics warned that the nation couldn't pull it off -- its infrastructure too sub-par, its hotels not up to snuff, its crime rate too high.

But Friday's match came off without a hitch at Soccer City, the massive soccer arena on the outskirts of the once blighted township of Soweto, which symbolized the oppression and injustice of the country's system of apartheid.

Not far away in Newtown, a motley cast of thousands gathered to watch the match on a massive outdoor TV screen. One of Johannesburg's vibrant cultural neighborhoods and home to the famous Market Theatre, Newtown was among the few places under apartheid where blacks and whites could mingle as equals.

And on Friday, South Africans flocked there in wigs dipped in hues of yellow, green, red, blue and black -- the colors of the South African flag. They painted South African flags on their cheeks. They were themselves of all colors -- blacks, whites, mixed race and Indians. They danced, they jumped and they pranced. They wiggled their hips to the ubiquitous vuvuzelas, horns that produced a sound that blossomed into a deafening hum like a group of angry hornets, perhaps even elephants.

Kagiso Motsamay, 23, who brought his 3-year-old son Tshiamo, said this World Cup would shatter stereotypes.

"This will show the world what we are really made of. When I was in America, everyone thought that I owned a pet lion," said Motsamay, who recently visited relatives in Atlanta.

Moments later he added, "Racism still exists in South Africa, but sports unites all of us."

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